In thinking about how we might get from today’s technology to the technology I’ve envisioned in the future, it’s often useful to work backwards; envisioning how to step back from high technology to lower technology.
For virtual space, it seems that we might accomplish the transition from today with only two “stepping stone” technologies. So, what exactly is virtual space? Simply a fully immersive, artificially created simulation of the world. You can interact with it just as you do the real world. You can see, hear, smell, feel, taste, etc, everything in the simulation just like you would in real life and, above all, have abilities that are impossible in the real world (flight, teleportation, instant creation of anything, etc.) So what would one step back from that be? Maybe a less-immersive type of virtual space.
Like say, portable, light-weight virtual reality glasses. These glasses simply give visual and auditory feedback, like playing a video game, but operated completely through audio and tactile command (with something like a virtual keyboard, which the glasses create, much like what can be done today). These glasses will be used to surf the internet, play games, make video and audio phone call, perhaps even be used to travel though a primitive version of virtual space. They could also be used as a real-world HUD (Heads-Up Display), which can overlay important information about real-world things, appearing on the things themselves (for example, lets say you’re at a restaurant and you don’t know what to get. You might use the glasses to go online, look for reviews of specific dishes, which the glasses will then point out by apparently projecting some sort of highlighting feature on the physical menu in front of you. I say “apparently” because the “projection” is entirely contained between the glasses and your eyes meaning only you can see it).
So how might we get to this technology? Well, I can see it growing directly out of cell phones. Basically, imagine something like this, but as an add-on to cell phones, like Bluetooth. Instead of looking at your screen, the information is relayed by Bluetooth, or similar technology, to these glasses that you are wearing. But you still have the phone and everything on you.
So that would be only two steps: electronic glasses connected to cell phones, electronic glasses without cell phones. The final transition comes at the end. It’s likely that real virtual space won’t come about until people start uploading. The demand just won’t be high enough to encourage a large percent of the population to undergo major surgery just to have the latest high-tech gadget (also, what do you do when the next model comes out a year later? Go through surgery again?). But if you’re uploaded, the transition from one set of virtual space hardware to the next becomes much simpler. Being uploaded means that your mind and your brain will already be easily accessible in the future.
So, what do we need to start on this path? Well the electronic glasses would be a considerable piece of technology in their own right. In order for there to be wide demand of these, they would have to be very similar to existing glasses of today. They would need to be just as light-weight and allow just as much visibility out of them, and be just as easy to take on and take off. They would also have to be very cheap, possibly no more that $100-$200 in today’s money. That might take some time, but we do have a few decades for this to be developed. Maybe in fifteen to twenty years, we’ll all have glasses like these.